IndyCar | Seasonal Longevity

Could an official IndyCar Esports Series increase fan engagement during a long off-season, and help pave a new road to Indy?

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IndyCar | Seasonal Longevity
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How many of us, particularly in the northern hemisphere, would love to experience an extended autumn season, before the harsh cold winter descends upon the landscape? That crisp coolness in the air, picturesque collage of colorful leaves, and the opportunity to add some fashionable layers to your attire can easily make it the most enjoyable season. Let's not forget the opportunity to buy a pumpkin spice flavored or scented version of your favorite foods and other essentials.

The same could be said for the IndyCar Series, which will end in late September next year while other motorsport series are still going strong.

In the United States, where a large portion of IndyCar's fanbase resides, there is stiff competition for television viewership and ticket sales from the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the NASCAR Cup Series. Additionally, the crucial age group of 18 to 34, which so many sporting and entertainment entities are targeting, also has increasingly captivating coverage of college football and Major League Soccer to watch on Saturdays and Sundays in the fall season.

Even IMSA recognizes the necessity for a post-season showcase event, like the Michelin IMSA Sportscar Encore at Sebring International Raceway in November, to increase its opportunities for fan engagement before their season kicks off again in January at Daytona International Speedway.

There is, however, an increasingly popular sporting/entertainment forum that IndyCar has yet to fully incorporate. It would negate the expense of adding more destinations to their 17 race calendar, and could actually become an alternative source of revenue for the future.

I'm referring to the growing popularity of esports.

Esports racing is quickly closing the gap between the virtual world and the real world, and provides a successful way for amateur sim racers to become professional sim racers while fans can dynamically engage with the participating series.

Formula E and Formula One have done this successfully by incorporating high stakes competitions into their traditional seasons and broadcasting the events on social media. It's basically a season within a season, which can either culminate during the host series' finale or extend beyond it for continued interest after the final checkered flag waves.

F1 in particular are taking it to a whole new level in eMotorsports with the creation of official teams that have hired their own sim drivers to represent them. At a time when the real F1 championship is all but wrapped up for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG F1, the anticipation of the 2nd annual F1 Esports champion is building up to an impactful crescendo. The cache of winning this virtual competition, along with the monetary prize, is providing real world opportunities for gamers who could only dream of being part of a globe-trotting F1 team a couple of years ago.

Rather than imitate what's already being done by other racing series, IndyCar has a unique opportunity to set itself apart by incorporating an official esports series into its highly successful Mazda Road To Indy driver and team development ladder.

The first step is finding a popular and realistic racing simulation platform on which players of all abilities can compete for esports glory. That platform and intimate association already exists with iRacing. Even those who don't have the funds to invest in an extravagant home simulator can still enjoy the diverse selection of cars, tracks, and driving options that are available in the online subscription service. iRacing also benefits greatly from its partnership with Dallara Automobili, by providing an accurate representation of the beautiful IR-18 chassis that made its debut this season. IndyCar fans and subscribers were even able to download and drive the car before the action kicked off in St. Petersburg. Looking the part is important, but using actual data acquired by the service's engineers and programmers results in a car that drives very similar to its real world counterpart.

The next step is finding associate sponsors to help fund the series and promote its significance in this technologically immersive world. Those sponsorship campaigns could also contribute to the regular season, providing a seamless transition from the off-season to the beginning of the next. Esports is forecasted to be a billion dollar business by 2020, with nearly 600 million viewers worldwide. Whether you're a fan of first-person shooters, role-playing games, turn-based strategy, fighting games, or sports-related simulations the future looks jam packed with options to view or compete in the intoxicating atmosphere that is esports. If you're a company or series that's looking to add more diversity to your business portfolio, then the time is now to jump into the virtual arena.

Even more crucial is the level of participation and reward progression in an esports series. Individual players and teams are often viewed as gaming celebrities all over the world, with their intensely focused preparation and competitive spirit being documented and broadcasted on widely used live video streaming sources like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. They are heroes to many, and many are earning a heroic sum of money in the process through prize winnings and sponsorship deals.

While games like Dota 2, Counter-strike: Global Offensive, and League of Legends have legions of fans, esports racing is still considered to be in its infancy. There is no official IndyCar game for home consoles or PC, but you need only look at the created competitive leagues on iRacing to see that there is already a growing community of sim racers, spectators, and sponsors. All that is needed is an officially sanctioned initiative to help bring them all together.

What would set an official IndyCar Esports Series apart from the others is the realistic opportunity to reward successful sim racers with real world racing seats in its professional driver development series.

Imagine being the first IndyCar Esports Series champion and receiving an invitation to the USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in December? You, along with single-seater champions from around the world, would be competing for a chance to fulfill your racing dream! Prove your abilities on the track, and you could ascend the ladder through Pro Mazda, Indy Lights, and into the IndyCar Series!

Is there any other professional racing series that could offer such a significant reward through their esports initiative?

The foundation is in place for an extension of the IndyCar season that fully embraces the intense competition in the real and virtual world.

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